Paperback Warrior is fertile ground for plenty of insight into Harry Whittington's literary work. A portion of his body of work has been released as digital reprints over the last two decades. Yet, there are so many paperback originals written by Whittington, or one of his many pseudonyms, that a sizable portion of his writing remains out of print to this day. My case in point is the crime-noir “Strangers on Friday”, which was published by Zenith in 1959. It's a rare paperback that demands top dollar among collectors.
“Strangers on Friday” embodies many of the elements that made the author so spectacular and popular. Whittington's novel features small-town corruption, beautiful (but distressed) women, an embedded mystery and a lone hero. Of course, all of it is constructed perfectly while showcasing the psychological impact on the characters.
In other words, “Strangers on Friday” kicks total ass.
Mac Rivers is a WW2 veteran, a widow and a man without a purpose. Searching for something to live for, Mac hops the first available bus and strikes up a long conversation with a beautiful young woman. Without a destination, Mac steps off of the bus with the woman in the tiny mountain hamlet of Roxmount. Mac is surprised (experienced readers aren't) when the unnamed woman invites Mac for drinks and then a late night sleepover at the local motel. After a night of lovemaking, Mac journeys out for breakfast only to find himself arrested for killing a police officer the night before.
Sleeping with women before knowing their name is a “cart before the horse” endeavor that typically doesn't lead to an arrest. Mac didn't kill anyone, but in this case his alibi is condom thin. Mac, searching for this unnamed woman, eventually leads the sheriff to the local bar where he had drinks with the woman. She isn't there, but in sheer desperation he randomly points out another beautiful woman and claims she's the one. When the sheriff asks her to confirm Mac's story...she does! What kind of town is this?
Whittington cleverly weaves political corruption, robbery and a whodunit into this fast-paced, riveting narrative. Nothing is as it seems, the characters behave in a puzzling manner. Mac is thrust into the challenging role of “drifting trouble-maker” to make sense of it all. It's a tired cliché but it works wonders under Whittington's unique design. With this much mystery and intrigue, thankfully there's still an expansive plot to fit in the obligatory fisticuffs, car chases and gunfire. Despite the misleading cover, this is a crime-fiction novel and a damn fine one. Whether it is worth the collector’s high price tag is a painful dilemma. If you love his work, I'd say it is mandatory. If not, just give it a few decades for the affordable ebook.
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